Developing an idea for assignment 5

Since completing assignment 3 a few months ago I’ve been playing around with a couple of ideas that might be suitable for assignment 5. Both of them revolve around questions of time, place and identity, but one is essentially an exploration of personal identity while the other focuses more on place, and after a lot of experimentation and deliberation I’ve decided to go ahead with the latter.

This idea stems from exploring the history of the 1850s Brighton flat that’s been my home since the beginning of last year, which I’ve become conscious of through quirks of the building, taking guided architectural tours of the area, lease documents, googling, letters that arrive for people long gone, and the flat’s aura of historical occupation. I searched in vain for a genuine photograph of the original owners, who built the house and owned it for two generations, so decided to use a photograph of another family from around the same period to represent them. I had carried out several experiments with printing on semi-translucent fabric for assignment 3, and felt that this could also offer a way to bring the family’s presence into my flat, if I printed the image at full life size and hung it in the room as part of a scene which also included me. I made an A4 transfer print test on muslin.

I then decided to include inhabitants from a selection of other eras, and found a suitable family portrait from around the 1920s, but the 1960s was more challenging as it became apparent that by then nobody went to studios for family photos, so I used a photo of my own family from that time. I also wanted to include at least one person from the time since the house was divided into 10 flats in the 1980s, and I know that a dancer lived in this flat for a while, so found an image to represent him too.

I overlaid all the images in Photoshop, using various blending settings to allow each image to be seen without blocking the others. I then printed the composite image on muslin to see how it worked on the semi-transparent fabric. I also wanted to get an impression of what the effect would be of having the image as a life-sized backdrop to a scene in which I also appeared, so mocked that up in Photoshop.

I also explored the idea of projecting (rather than printing) the composite image onto a muslin or similar screen and discovered that this technique is in common use as a Halloween trick, but came to the conclusion that it required a much larger space than mine to achieve a life-size effect that I could also interact with, plus it only really works with cut-out figures, not full-width images like my composite.

I decided the next step should probably be to make some more considered images of myself, perhaps posing for my portrait in the same manner as the “ghosts”, to see how they work with the composite image. I also thought about including myself as one of the layers of the printed composite image instead of hanging the print and shooting myself in front of it to create the final work, because it would emphasise my status as just one more of the cycle of inhabitants and avoid the possibility that the final image might just turn out to look like a photo of me sitting in front of a wall hanging. So I added a shot of my front room as a background layer to the composite to see what this would look like. I also experimented with making myself less opaque so that the transient nature of my own inhabitance was emphasised.

My present inclination is to get this version printed at a large scale, as close to life-size as I can have it done at a reasonable price, and make that print the final work rather than re-shoot the print in situ. But first this seems like a very good time to request peer feedback, so I’ve decided to ask for that at the next Sunday forum which takes place in a few days from now.